If there was any question whether the Flyers saw a future captaincy in center Mike Richards, it was addressed today in flattering terms.

The Flyers have offered him a 12-year deal with an annual cap hit of $5.7 million. The contract is worth at least $68.4 million. Final details have not been worked out and approval of the NHL is pending, league sources said.

This deal would eclipse - in money only - the 15-year, $67.5 million contract Islander goalie Rick DiPietro signed in 2006, although neither of these deals rank as the most lucrative in league history.

Obviously, the club values Richards enough they want him around long term to succeed Jason Smith as their next captain.

The 23-year-old Richards would have been a Group II free agent in July. This deal was inspired, in part, by what Anaheim did earlier this season, locking up Ryan Getzlaf to a five-year, $26.6 million contract. He, too, would have been an attractive Group II free agent this summer.

Getzlaf was the 19th pick overall in the rich 2003 NHL Draft. Richards was taken 24th. Career-wise, their numbers are close, though Getzlaf had a breakout season last year with 25 goals. Richards has already matched his career-high of 34 points and the season it not even half over.

Because of what happened last summer where the Ducks lost Dustin Penner to Edmonton via a Group II offer sheet, the Flyers realized that under the new CBA, it was very likely some club would have offered Richards a multi-year, multi-million offer sheet in July. Hence, their desire to strike a new contract now.

Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.